Today, on Facebook, I got an urgent appeal to sign a petition against dog torture in China. I am against torturing dogs, whether in China or Chico. Still, I didn’t bother to sign this particular petition. By rough estimate, my computer burps up a half dozen requests to sign petitions daily. Every few hours, I’m asked to record my displeasure over human fuck-ups taking place from the upper atmosphere to the bottom of the seas.
We’re in danger of being swamped by each day’s serving of mondo madness, diluting our sense of moral outrage with the sheer volume of things that should provoke it. It’s just too much. At some point in the onslaught of atrocities, even a saint might be inclined to say “the hell with it,” and decide to just go get drunk.
Metaphorically, that’s what I did when that “stop-dog-torture-in-China” petition hit my email. It was a surfeit of worldly sorrow, more than I could take at that particular moment and, for that moment, I was simply unable to deal with it.
Being “unable to deal with it” took me back several decades to a memory of a teaching colleague up in Washington, a guy who was never not stoned. During a run of bad luck—his wife had left him, and he was in ten kinds of trouble—he told me one of those stories that reveal more than the teller knows is being revealed, a tale about a day of woe in which the final straw was when a truck hit his dog out at the far end of the road that led to his cabin, leaving the animal injured and biting at the pain in its hindquarters. “I just walked back to the house and fired up a doobie,” he told me, “cuz I just couldn’t fuckin’ deal with it, man.”
I thought, “When your dog is in pain, not dealing with it is not an option, man,” and I never again thought of that man without a solid measure of disrespect.
There are just some things basic human decency requires of us.
So I went back and added my name to the petition for China’s tormented dogs, expressing a nearly meaningless millisecond of moral outrage with a few keystrokes. That was my way of dealing with “it,” though in the sea of troubles that lap up on the shores of our laptops each day, it was barely a piss in the ocean. But better that than nothing at all.